Monday, August 04, 2008

SingFest Day 2 Review
[ updated 9th August 2008 ]

[ click on the images to enlarge ]

Part 1 - Jason Mraz

( Btw, I've been noticing regular visits from Australian locations, which strangely correspond to JM's tour schedule. Not that I'm being presumptive or egoistic, but since I did send him a message about this review via MySpace, I suppose there's a tiny possibility he decided to drop by.

So Jason, if you happen to read this, I'd like to say a big WELCOME. :) )

He may not look the part, but I personally find him downright sexy.

I've been a fan since 2003, and became a diehard in 2006 following his acoustic concert at The Esplanade. But last Sunday, I became - I kid you not - helplessly infatuated.

Dressed in a plain getup ( as you can see in the pictures ), he nevertheless overflowed with charisma without even trying, or realizing it. He was laid back, playing his guitar and singing his heart out, totally relaxed. His voice was, as always, perfect ( those glorious high notes, held for what seems like an eternity! ). This time, however, he came with a full band, so the sound was completely different from his unplugged show 2 years ago.

The effect? A heart-pounding 60 minutes of hard jamming. I LOVED IT!

Jason opened with The Remedy ( a hot favourite from his debut album, Waiting For My Rocket To Come ). This pop-rock piece got a nice little improv in the form of some lyrics from Oasis' Wonderwall ( ingenious! ). Then it was on to songs from his latest release ( We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things ) -- Make It Mine, I'm Yours, Butterfly, Live High, Only Human, and The Dynamo of Volition. He also threw in Geek in the Pink, from Mr. A-Z.

I was tightly packed within a huge crowd crammed near the stage, sweating my butt off, fanning myself like crazy, swigging mineral water and spraying the people around me with eau de toilette ( without their knowledge of course ). But I could see and hear Jason and gang really clearly, and there're a few bits worth mentioning.

First, the body language. While acoustic Jason from 2006 whispered and swayed, rocker Jason belted and boogied. He held his guitar close like a precious child, but danced with it like an attentive lover. He bopped his head to the beat, tapped his feet, then led us in some rhythmic upper limb actions on The Dynamo of Volition. There were also cheeky hand gestures - I think it was during Butterfly, but can't be sure ( it's the heat, dammit! ).

At one point, he did a group routine with the bassist and trumpet player. Again, I forget which song this was ( sorry ), but it was simple yet classy. Reminded me of something right out of the Motown era, done in a suave, stylish manner. Very cool. :)

Second, the music. Aside from the usual high standards fans can always expect from Jason and his band, I was thrilled by the opening a cappella rendition on Live High, reminiscent of a church choir. Beautiful! And when they hit the chorus ( 'Live high, live mighty, live righteously' ), Jason turned his gaze up towards the heavens with a dreamy look on his face. Yow. :)

Every song was arranged differently from its studio version, and worked brilliantly in a 'live' setting. And since I own 5 of his albums to date ( 3 studio and 2 concert recordings ), I can tell you that no two 'live' JM performances ever sound the same, yet they're all equally amazing.

Third, the crowd response. I was sandwiched in the middle of a mostly young group of spectators, i.e. in their late teens and early 20s. They knew all the lyrics, sang their guts out, and gamely imitated Jason's arm gestures. I was impressed! Never thought he'd have such a huge following in this particular demographic ( he's still considered a little off the mainstream, no? ). The cheers were deafening, and many screamed for more after he ended his set.

But alas, that's the downside of an event like this. Each act was only allowed up to 60 minutes of stage time, which left little allowance for encores or banter. A pity, since Jason is famous for his wit, which is sardonic and occasionally kooky. That was the main advantage of watching him at The Esplanade, where he told cute little stories in between songs, and had us all in stitches. The audience missed that at SingFest - a huge waste.

You can check out Jason's MySpace page to listen to a 'live' version of Love For A Child - a piece I find absolutely enchanting, and which sounds even more gorgeous outside the confines of a studio ( there's a bit of an echo on this recording, which I think really enhances its beauty ). Wish he could've sung this last Sunday ( or A Beautiful Mess, another favourite of mine ).

Did anyone tune in to his interview with Class 95 on Wednesday night? He spoke to Love Songs DJ Yasmin at his hotel on Tuesday, and she mentioned he's the only person from the SingFest lineup who stayed back a few days just to do interviews.

It was a lovely session, covering his music, tours, fans, even bits of his personal life. He speaks very well ( something I've known for a while now ), is appropriately described by Yaz as "very Zen", has a major ( and I mean MAJOR ) thing for avocados ( he grows them on a farm! ), and loves cats - awww.

I have a very soft spot for cats and cat lovers, especially if the latter belong to the male species, 'cos men usually prefer dogs. I know very few guys who adore cats as much as I do, so listening to Jason wax lyrical about his tabby, Holmes, was extremely soothing, especially in view of my own pet's recent demise ( I still miss him terribly, argh ).

The minute Yaz got him started about his little feline companion, Jason's voice changed significantly, and the affection really shone through. His description about how Holmes would follow him around the house then park himself in whichever room his owner was in brought back some great memories for me, 'cos I spent so many nights with my cat curled up in my arms as I watched TV / read a book / slept.

I can picture Jason cuddling cats, and like him even more now, haha. :)

The best piece of news, though, came from his manager, who told Yaz that Jason is seriously thinking of returning for a purely Asian tour, hopefully in early 2009. And of course, he fully intends to come back to Singapore for a solo gig.
A fabulous idea! I suggest the Singapore Indoor Stadium, which can accomodate his legions of fans.

And this time, I'm going to do everything I can to meet him in person.

Anyway, enough gushing about JM. If you'd like to read about his Esplanade concert from 2006, just type Jason Mraz in the search box above, then scroll down to the March 21 2006 entry.

Part 2 - the best of the rest

Rick Astley was very good vocally, but seemed lethargic physically, and appeared to lose steam early in his short set ( I think it lasted only 30-40 minutes at most ). He performed many of his biggest hits -- Take Me To Your Heart, Hold Me In Your Arms, When I Fall In Love, She Wants To Dance With Me, Cry For Help, and yes, the famous Never Gonna Give You Up.

I was happy enough just to see him in the flesh ( I managed to squeeze forward a few metres during the set changes, which explains why photos taken after Jason Mraz's performance are correspondingly magnified ), so the lack of a "wow" factor didn't really bother me.

The panty-throwing antics were hilarious though. Someone also tossed a whole bra onstage! I certainly hope that particular fan is female, heh.

The Pussycat Dolls came after Rick, and put up a jolly good show. I am not a fan, but am familiar with their work, thanks to MTV and televised music awards ceremonies. They opened with Buttons ( perhaps my favourite of the repertoire ), then pretty much barrelled through Don't Cha, Wait A Minute, I Don't Need A Man, and Stickwitu. I particularly enjoyed their cover of Sway, which was unexpected, but done very competently.

The funny thing about this set is how a large group of men ( a mixture of backstage crew, concert organizer / record company / other industry people ) parked themselves at the side ( on the same stage ) to watch the Dolls strut their stuff. I know exactly what was going through all their minds. :)

Due to many delays in between sets ( for prop changes and sound checks ), Alicia Keys started her bit an hour late ( shortly past 11pm ).

And since I was accompanied by my 65-year-old mother ( who tagged along to see Rick Astley and Jason Mraz - yes, she's quite the hipster :)), and we'd been standing since our arrival at 4pm, I agreed to leave early at her request. She was looking quite weatherbeaten by then, no doubt a result of dehydration and fatigue.

But worthy of special mention is OneRepublic, whom I almost missed due to a long queue at the entrance. Luckily, they began their performance only at 5pm, just as I found a vantage point at the back and purchased some food.

The whole band was sweating bullets in the afternoon heat, but lead singer Ryan Tedder sounded terrific -- much much better than what I've heard on previous 'live' gigs. He hit all the high notes right on the mark, and kept audiences happy with lots of banter and some spraying of mineral water into the crowd. Nice fellow.

I may not be in Singapore for the next SingFest ( am aiming to start my HMDP fellowship next July in NYC ), but I'll get my fill of good music in Manhattan. Broadway and summer concert tours galore, woohoo!

But my heartiest congratulations to Midas Promotions and fellow organizers for bringing a slew of excellent acts this year. However, a lot of credit also goes to the audience, who were well-behaved yet enthusiastic, and no doubt responsible for coaxing spectacular performances from all the musicians.

Suggestions for SingFest 2009? Better food and beverages, more blowfans, fewer delays. The parking's always going to be hell on earth, so no improvements possible in that area. I'd like to see more British acts as well -- how about James Morrison, Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse?

Right then, that's it for my review. Hope you enjoyed it, comments welcomed.

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